Action is needed now to deal with growth
Size of predictions on population rise are staggering
Sunday, September 16, 2007
The forecast population growth throughout Greater Vancouver and the Fraser Valley over the next few decades is staggering to the point where many politicians in Victoria and Ottawa still haven't grasped it.
But a quick read of a City of Surrey corporate report to its council last Monday would soon set them straight.
It says the four fastest-growing cities -- Surrey, Langley Township, Abbotsford and Coquitlam -- will absorb 65 per cent the region's total growth over the next 10 years.
Together, this foursome adds 20,000 people per year so, by 2031, its collective total will be 500,000. This means that the population of these four will grow from 750,000 today to 1.25 million by 2031.
"A population of 1.25 million would currently rank as the fourth largest city in Canada," the Surrey report notes.
These numbers are nothing new to Mike Harcourt, the former B.C. premier and mayor of Vancouver.
In fact, the numbers are a key reason why Harcourt and the four mayors are launching a unique organization designed to play a pivotal role in how the region copes with this growth from many perspectives, including public transit, roads, health care, homelessness, crime, even high housing costs.
With Harcourt as a facilitator and adviser, the mayors and their city managers are in the process of signing a "Livability Accord" which commits them to working together on common rapid-growth issues like those just mentioned.
The accord also gives these cities one voice when lobbying both Ottawa and Victoria for the vast number of dollars that will be needed very soon to bridge the infrastructure gap, which current municipal property taxes simply cannot support.
Or, as Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts says: "The development of infrastructure in our high-growth cities is not keeping pace."
Watts and Harcourt initiated the Livability Accord concept earlier this year following Harcourt's work as chair of the Prime Minister's Committee for Cities and Communities.
Both emphasize that the fledgling group is not a new level of regional government, it's simply an advisory group that intends to make sure those who hold our federal and provincial tax dollars clearly understand what needs to be done in the four communities to maintain livability amid the anticipated population explosion.
As Harcourt says, the issues facing these four are different than issues facing the region's established cities such as Vancouver, Burnaby or New Westminster.
It will also work closely with the regional districts while seeking public input on the key issues.
Abbotsford is a particularly important component, Watts says, because it's one of Canada's fastest- growing cities and home to Abbotsford International Airport, which is one of the Fraser Valley's primary "economic engines."
The accord has now been ratified by city councils in Surrey, Langley Township and Abbotsford, while Coquitlam is expected to approve it shortly. And the new partnership should be fully operational by this time next year.
Finally, is this a good idea or simply pie-in-the-sky?
I think it's a good idea because this group is apolitical.
Historically, one of this region's major drawbacks to infrastructure development has been the spillover of party politics -- particularly from Victoria. Your riding's chances for project funding are usually improved if you elect an MLA to the government side, for example.
Mike Harcourt, for one, abandoned party politics long ago, and along with the four mayors, he can tackle the region's challenges without an ideological albatross hanging around his neck.
This, at least, makes for a good start.